About 1 in 50 Americans lives with some form of paralysis. Paraplegia is a type of paralysis that affects the lower half of your body and your ability to walk. It is often caused by injury.
There is no cure for paraplegia but there are many treatments that can make it easier to manage.
Paraplegia is a type of paralysis that affects your ability to move the lower half of your body. It occurs when an illness or injury impacts the part of your nervous system which controls the lower half of your body.
You might have trouble moving your legs, feet, and stomach muscles. In some cases, this paraplegia will only affect one leg. This is called incomplete paraplegia.
Different forms of paralysis are named for the areas of the body and how much of the body they impact. Paraplegia only impacts the lower half of the body. Other forms of paralysis include:
- Monoplegia. This type impacts only one limb.
- Paraparesis. This type partially impacts both legs.
- Diplegia. This type impacts either both arms or both legs.
- Hemiplegia.This type impacts one side of the body. For example, your left arm and left leg.
- Quadriplegia. This type impacts both arms and both legs. Quadriplegia is sometimes referred to as tetraplegia.
The symptoms of paraplegia can depend on the person and on the severity of your paraplegia. Some symptoms will be present right away and others might develop over time.
- loss of feeling in the lower half of your body
- chronic pain
- phantom pain in the lower half of your body
- bladder and bowel trouble
- difficulty walking and standing
- weight gain
- sexual difficulties
- skin breakdowns
- high blood pressure
A medical provider can assess you for paraplegia if you’re having symptoms. They’ll take a detailed medical history that will include any recent accidents or illnesses.
You’ll generally need medical imaging tests to look for damage that might be causing your symptoms. Imaging tests include an MRI, X-ray, or CT scan. You might also have a test called electromyography. This test measures how your body responds when affected muscles are stimulated.
Paraplegia is normally caused by injury to your spinal cord or brain that stops signals from reaching your lower body. When your brain cannot send signals to your lower body, it results in paralysis.
Many injuries that cause paraplegia are the result of accidents. Accidents that might cause paraplegia include:
- car accidents
- sports accidents
- being the victim of a crime
Sometimes paraplegia is caused by conditions that damage your spinal cord and brain. These can include:
- cerebral palsy
- nerve conditions
- multiple sclerosis
- spinal tumors
- brain tumors
- hereditary spastic paraplegia, a rare genetic condition
Unfortunately, most cases of paraplegia are caused by accidents and conditions that aren’t preventable.
You can take steps to reduce your risk of accidents, such as practicing safe driving. However, there is no way to prevent all accidents and completely prevent any chance of paraplegia.
There are a few risk factors for developing paraplegia. These include:
- playing high-impact sports such as football or wrestling
- participating in sports like gymnastics, diving, or surfing
- a history of cancer
- a family history of a condition that affects your nervous system
Finding care for paraplegia
If you or a loved one have paraplegia, these organizations can help find the care and support you need:
- The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. This foundation has a support line (800-539-7309) for free help finding physicians, rehabilitation facilities, therapists, and more.
- The United Spinal Association. This association can connect you with support groups, accessibility resources, and more.
- FacingDisability.com. This organization can help you find medical care, financial assistance, disability advocacy, assistive technology, and more.
There is no way to cure paraplegia. However, in some cases, people are able to regain some control over the affected areas. Additionally, treatments can help you manage the symptoms of paraplegia.
Treatment options for paraplegia include:
- Physical therapy. This type of therapy helps reduce pain, build strength in surrounding muscles, and prevent muscle deterioration.
- Occupational therapy. This therapy helps individuals with paraplegia adapt to completing daily tasks.
- Mobility devices. These include assistance devices such as wheelchairs and power scooters to help individuals improve and maintain mobility.
- Prescription medications. These include medications such as muscle relaxers and pain relievers to help with pain, blood thinners to reduce your risk of clots, and others.
- Surgery. Different surgical procedures may help to treat symptoms, address mobility, and improve health.
Treatment will depend on your case and symptoms. It might also change over time. There is no cure for paraplegia, but with help, you can manage your condition.
Paraplegia is a lifelong condition that can lead to other issues with time. This might include:
- overactive muscle responses called spasticity
- trouble with digestion
- constipation or loose bowels
- muscle weakness
Over time, paraplegia can lead to a decline in a person’s function and independence as symptoms become worse. Your medical team will help you reduce these possible complications. If they do develop, you might need additional medications or treatments.
Paraplegia is a type of paralysis that affects the lower half of your body. It affects your ability to walk, stand, and do other actions that require control of your legs, feet, pelvic muscles, and stomach.
Paraplegia is generally the result of an injury, but it can also be caused by conditions that damage your spinal cord or brain. There is no cure for paraplegia, but treatment can help you manage your condition.